Ranking the NBA Lottery #1 Picks

by Paul Knepper

Tonight the NBA will hold its annual draft lottery to determine which team will have the first selection in the 2011 Draft, scheduled to take place on June 23rd at the Prudential Center in Newark. Every team that didn’t make the playoffs has a chance to win the No. 1 pick. The worse a team’s record, the greater their odds of getting lucky.

The NBA lottery system began in 1985, with the Knicks winning the first pick and the right to draft the highly touted center from Georgetown, Patrick Ewing. No. 1 picks have had varying degrees of success in the NBA. Some have fulfilled expectations and gone on to legendary careers and some have been simply solid contributors, while others have been complete busts.

This is a ranking of the careers of the 26 first overall picks in the NBA Draft since the lottery system was implemented. It’s based on what they’ve accomplished thus far, not career projections.

26. Greg Oden, Portland Trailblazers (2007) – There are 82 games in a season. That’s how many games Oden has played with the Trailblazers – over four seasons. It’s deja vu all over again for a franchise that drafted injury-riddled centers Bill Walton and Sam Bowie with the first pick. GM Kevin Pritchard lost his job for taking Oden instead of Kevin Durant.

25. Michael Olowokandi, Los Angeles Clippers (1998) – The “Kandi Man” never developed a low-post game and often looked lost on the court. Over nine seasons, he averaged a measly 8.3 points per game and is looked upon as one of the biggest busts in league history.

24. Kwame Brown, Washington Wizards (2001) – Michael Jordan’s folly has shown minimal improvement in his game over ten seasons in the league. He’s been booed out of a few cities due to lack of commitment and a combative attitude, though he was a solid contributor off the bench for the Bobcats this season, delivering 7.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

23. Pervis Ellison, Sacramento Kings (1989) – “Never Nervous Pervis” had a couple of very good seasons early in his career with Washington, but bad knees rendered him ineffective for the majority of his 12-year career. Averaging just 9.5 points and 6.7 rebounds in a career is not what one would expect from a No. 1 selection.

22. John Wall, Washington Wizards (2010) – Wall had an impressive rookie season for the lowly Wizards, averaging, 16.4 points and 8.3 assists. The kid is just 20-years-old and his ceiling is unlimited. How high he climbs will depend on his work ethic, attitude and his jump shot.

21. Joe Smith, Golden State Warriors (1995) – Smith is a high energy guy with a reliable mid-range jumpshot and has been a solid role player throughout his career. But Golden State was expecting more than 10.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game from this average Joe.

20. Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors (2006) – Toronto was hoping to land the next Dirk Nowitzki when they selected this seven-foot Italian with a feathery touch. He’s no Dirk, but he did flourish as the team’s number one option this season to the tune of 21.4 points per game.

19. Kenyon Martin, New Jersey Nets (2000) – Early in his career, Martin was a key component of a Nets team that made back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals, but he never became the force that many people projected. After a series of knee injuries, little remains of the jumping ability that once made him an outstanding defender.

18. Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks (2005) – Bogut’s a fundamentally sound big-man who’s improved each year in the league. He’ll never be a superstar, though he contributes 15 points and 10 rebounds a game. Unfortunately, it’ll likely continue to come in the relative obscurity of Wisconsin.

17. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (2009) – Griffin put to rest any concerns about his health following a severe knee injury in 2009. The most explosive big man to enter the league in many years is on his way to a Hall of Fame career, barring injuries. But he has to do it for more than one season to move his way up this list.

16. Derrick Coleman, New Jersey Nets (1990) – DC was a tremendous talent, but laziness and an uncontrollable ego derailed his career. He averaged over 20 points and 10 boards per game for three consecutive seasons, with minimal effort. He ultimately ate himself out of the league after just five games with the Pistons in 2004.

15. Glenn Robinson, Milwaukee Bucks (1994) – The “Big Dog” was an elite during his 10 years in the league. However, the former Purdue star never developed the other aspects of his game and earned a reputation as a selfish player.

14. Larry Johnson, Charlotte Hornets (1991) – “Grandmama” was a ferocious interior presence during his first few seasons before a back injury curtailed his explosiveness. The 1992 NBA Rookie of the Year was a two-time All-Star with the Hornets and utilized an array of post moves to help the Knicks advance to the NBA Finals in 1999.

13. Danny Manning, Los Angeles Clippers (1988) – Manning was a great athlete with long arms who could beat you in many ways. The MVP of the 1988 Final Four for Kansas made the All-Star team twice, but was hampered by bad knees throughout his career and was forced to retire after scoring just 34 points in the 2004 season.

12. Elton Brand, Chicago Bulls (1999) – For several seasons you could  mark him down for 20 points and 10 rebounds a night. However, the two-time All-Star hit a wall when he signed with the 76ers in the summer of 2008 and he hasn’t been the same player since.

11. Yao Ming, Houston Rockets (2002) – Fans have already forgotten how good Yao was before injuries ruined his career. He averaged 25 points per game during the 2006-2007 season and could be depended on for 10 rebounds and a couple blocks per game.

10. Brad Daugherty, Cleveland Cavaliers (1986) – Daugherty was a consistent 20-10 performer for a very good Cavs team in the early 1990s. He was selected to five All-Star teams before recurring back problems forced him to retire at the age of 28.

9. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls (2008) – At 22 he was the youngest MVP in league history and you can make an argument that he’s already the best player in the game. If he can lead the Bulls to a championship this season he’ll climb a few spots higher.

8.  Chris Webber, Orlando Magic (1993) (Traded to Golden State Warriors on Draft Day) – C-Webb never won that elusive ring, but he was the centerpiece of some great Sacramento teams in his prime. He’s one of only six players in NBA history to average 20 points, nine rebounds and four assists a game for his career.

7. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic (2004) – He’s the most intimidating force in basketball and won Defensive Player of the Year for the third consecutive time this season. And to think the Magic were considering drafting Omeka Okafor instead. Ultimately, his legacy will hinge on whether he wins a championship.

6. Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers (1996) – Only five players in NBA history averaged more points per game for their career than A.I.’s 26.7. “The Answer” led the league in scoring four times and carried the 76ers to the NBA Finals in 2001.

5. Patrick Ewing, New York Knicks (1985) – Ewing was the best shooting center the league’s ever seen and in 1996 was named one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all-time. Though he never won a championship, he led the Knicks to 13 consecutive playoff appearances and made 11 All-Star teams.

4. David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs (1987) – The Admiral teamed up with Tim Duncan to win two championships near the end of his career. A force on both ends of the floor, Robinson was named Defensive Player of the Year in 1992 and won the league MVP in 1995. All this after being forced to sit out his first two seasons in order to honor his commitment to the U.S. Navy.

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (2003) – LeBron is the prototype for a basketball player. His combination of size, strength, quickness, athleticism and intelligence is unparalleled. The only thing missing from his resume is a ring and he could take care of that in the next few weeks.

2. Shaquille O’Neal, Orlando Magic (1992) – Shaq has lived up to the hype that surrounded him when he left LSU. With the exception of Chamberlain, the Diesel is the most dominant big man to ever step on a basketball court. He was an unstoppable force for a decade and a half, winning four championships along the way.

1. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (1997) – This unheralded superstar may be the best player of the post-Jordan era. The Big Fundamental has won four rings and two MVP awards and is considered by many basketball insiders to be the greatest power forward in the history of the game.

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